Sunday, 27 May 2012

Marine Protected Areas ~ Pleasing both conservational and fishing perspectives.

So here I am, yet again, blogging my revision notes in sheer desperation that something will stick in my mind. All I want to do is sit outside and soak up the sun’s rays with a beer (or Pimms) in hand, my friends, my man and some happy summer music. I’ve tried to sit outside and revise, of course I have, but there’s something so very tiring about having the sun on your head all day. Alas, I’ve moved inside… Again.

What have I got in store today then? I’m still on Protected Areas (my exam is tomorrow, oh I need a miracle) and whilst I know I could probably write an okay answer (as in, I’ll be able to muster up some information at least), none of the information that I’m trying to absorb is actually going in.

I’m fairly confident that a question will arise to do with the design of protected areas (or maybe the allocation) and what factors need to be considered in this process. There’s bound to be something although a question didn’t crop up on last year’s exam. I wonder. I made a note on the lecture material that I swore the lecturer had said there is bound to be a question on the design process so, if there isn’t, I’m probably screwed. Anyway…

(Image sourced from:

Marine Protected Areas ~ Pleasing both conservational and fishing perspectives.

One of the biggest worries concerning conservation managers is probably how big a protected area needs to be. Of course, from a purely conservational approach you’d expect “as big as possible” which is essentially to backing perspective for Pew Environmental Group (and other such foundations). Based on the Species-Area relationship, a larger area of land (or sea) will encompass a larger proportion of species and thus would be the best provider of conservation for meeting those conservation targets set. Concurrent to this, a larger area of protection is likely to encompass great habitat heterogeneity which studies have established has a positive effect on species richness. All in all, it seems like the better option doesn’t it? Have a large protected area and you run a greater chance of meeting those targets.

Unfortunately, as I’m sure you are aware from my last blog post, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Yes larger areas can support more species and have greater habitat diversity, but what about those socio-economic factors that are likely to limit the maximum size extent of these areas. Stakeholder support is a huge element of designing and implementing protected areas that cannot be ignored, without their support (either through economic backing or compliance) the viability of protected areas is likely to fall through. Fishermen, for example, solely depend on fish stocks and the harvesting of such for their well-being. Establishing a marine reserve, a protected area that does not permit any fishing activity whatsoever, therefore displaces these fishermen into alternate areas or preventing them from reaping the benefits of decent fish aggregations. Unless you combine both conservation and fisheries management to create a protected area that makes both parties happy, you’re going to get very little support from these fishermen which can simply reduce the area’s effectiveness due to lack of compliance.

The benefits of marine reserves on adjacent fishing grounds has already been well established through various studies; an increase in biomass, abundance, density, size and species richness is expected with reserves. Halpern assessed the extent these in detail using a myriad of studies in 2003; there was an average increase in abundance by 63%, size by 80%, biomass (a greater indicator of species recovery) by 90% and species richness by 59%. This is excellent news for both conservational and fishery objectives. It is generally well-accepted trait that larger fish have a greater fecundity and produce more eggs and engage in more reproductive activities. A 10kg red snapper, for example, produces 20-fold more eggs than, say, 10 individuals weighing 1kg each. This pattern of increased fecundity has been exhibited in Mombasa Marine National Park, Kenya (paper by Rodwell et al. 2002) with a greater biomass of reproductive individuals within the reserve boundaries.

So, what does this mean for the fishermen? It means they can obtain much greater catches just outside of the boundary therefore everyone is happy. This is termed the spillover effect, whereby the benefits observed within the reserve ‘spill-over’ into adjacent waters, either by the movement of juveniles and adults to external waters or the export of pelagic eggs and larvae. In Mombasa fish traps close to the marine reserve boundaries exhibited a 3X greater increase in catch (despite the greater trap density). A similar story also occurred in St Lucia! The downside to this is it does take a while for the benefits to be seen, as with anything. Fishermen, like politicians, want their results there and then and I don’t blame them, at the end of the day their jobs are affected. It largely depends on the extent of damage that areas has endured, but good responses (i.e. doubled or tripled populations) can be expected within 3-5 years.

Going back to what was said earlier about size, the extent of the spillover effect is proportionate to the edge of the protected area. The probability of fish leaving the given reserve is all dependent on the amount of ‘edge’ the reserve has. So, whilst larger reserves are much better from a conservational perspective, from a fishing perspective they offer very little (since the chance of a fish leaving the area is much slimmer) and less likely to be supported. What constitutes as ‘too large’ depends on the mobility of the species within the reserve and also the local oceanographic conditions (i.e. current speed and habitat type will contribute to the extent of a species’ propagule dispersal abilities).

It’s a difficulty faced by those who design protected areas. The initial ‘protect or don’t protect’ is hindered by a multitude of other factors that may cross one of the areas proposed off of the list. Protecting areas that are already heavily impacted by humans, or areas that are consistently affected by natural disasters means that it is likely these effects are going to infiltrate the reserve boundaries. If so, then a much larger reserve is required otherwise species extinctions and extirpations are likely to occur. This then runs the risk of placing all your eggs into one basket – what happens when the whole reserve is affected by an external threat? What then?

Even after the protected area has been implemented, boundaries have been decided and stakeholders are on board, who is going to manage the area? Is it small enough to be managed by the local population – this has proven to be useful in various studies, but when the issues become too severe it requires regional or even global management, but is this to be from centralised governments or from non-governmental organisations? It is nigh impossible to choose a strategy that can fit every scenario because, in simple terms, one size does not fit all.

I think I’ve gone off on one there, but hopefully it is of some use to those who are interested and plus, it serves me well for my exams. I just now hope that a question relating to this comes up!

References for those papers cited:

Rodwell, L. D., Barbier, E. B., Roberts, C. M. and McClanahan, T. R. (2002) A bioeconomic analysis of tropical marine reserves-fishery linkages : Mombasa Marine National Park. Natural Resource Modeling, 15, 183-197.

Halpern, B. (2003) The impact of marine reserves: Do reserves work and does reserve size matter? Ecological Applications, 13, 117-137.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Protected Areas: Is bigger really better?

I'm in the midst of my revision for the exams lurking around the corner (quite literally, I have one on Thursday, one on Monday and then one on Wednesday. I am in no way prepared for the last one but I'm getting there with the others). I'm just about to start looking over my coursework for this module, "Protected Areas: Is bigger really better?" and thought, what better way to inject the information I had understood back into my brain than to educate those who might not really understand the predicament that managers face.

Why is protection needed?
Through a combination of habitat modification, non-indigenous species introductions and direct exploitation, humans have undoubtedly placed an excess amount of pressure on the Earth, and as such the protection of these affected areas is the foundation for all biological conservation strategies. A protected area (PA) is defined as being “an area of land and/or sea especially dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity, and of natural and associated cultural resources, and managed through legal or other effective means” (IUCN 1994). Protected areas (PAs) aim to alleviate the anthropogenic pressures mentioned above. As a result, it is imperative that areas are effectively conserved, protected and managed if we are to meet the demands of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which intends to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2020.


Although there has been an increase in the number of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) globally, the ocean is still poorly represented when managing conservation priorities. Only about 1.17% of the world’s oceans are protected with approximately 6,800 designated MPAs. Land-based PAs however are expected to cover 13% of the Earth’s surface with over 120,000 designated PAs.

PA development
The development of PAs has, in recent years, taken a “no-take is best” and “bigger is better” stance, since the fundamental purpose of a PA is to preserve biodiversity. The Global Ocean Legacy programme of the Pew Environmental Group has largely driven the expansion of MPAs following their aims to establish a coherent protection network, something that has been highlighted as being highly important. Very large terrestrial PAs have typically aimed to conserve wilderness which unfortunately do not necessarily overlap with high priority areas. These areas biased towards lower quality lands and tend to have very little economic worth to humans.

Is bigger better? The SLOSS debate.
Based on the theory of island biogeography (MacArthur & Wilson 1967), an increase in size coincides with  an increase in species diversity and richness. These assumptions have been used to set baseline targets for conservation and are as such an integral part of the PA planning process. Early work suggested that larger PAs would be more beneficial to protecting biodiversity since they support larger species numbers, however since their establishment there has been an ongoing debate on the veracity of this. This is the 'SLOSS debate' (Single Large or Several Small). The outcome of the debate basically states that the "which is best" scenario largely depends on the objectives of the protected area, essentially no coherent conclusion was made!

An interesting point made was the potential for a population to recover after a catastrophe. Habitat fragmentation remains as one of the biggest threats to biological diversity since it increases the edge effect, a phenomenon whereby population densities tend to decline from the core to the peripheral habitat (or edge) due to the infiltration of human activity or natural threats which can hinder these populations. The smaller the population is, the more 'at risk' it is from extinction, however several small 'islands' of protection (depending on the extent of their connectivity) will have some level of interaction. These can act as reserve populations and help to repopulate an area. Very large protected areas (vLPAs) are expected to be so large that the risk of population extinction is very slim.

vLPAs and fisheries management
Whilst I am a (or aspiring to be at least) marine biologist maybe I should relate this whole thing to fisheries management and whether vLPAs are beneficial in this instance. As discussed by Roberts et al. (2001) it is highly unlikely that vLPAs would benefit fisheries as much as intermediate sizes. Lack of financial backing or stakeholder support would deem the implementation of these sites near impossible. Through the eyes of an eager fisherman, some marine reserves can be seen as pure gold mines since landings at these reserve edges can be exceptional due to something called "spillover". As the extent of spillover depends on boundary length and the edge-area ratio, vLPAs would not result in a high degree of spillover unless it was long in shape (rather than circular).

Target species
Protected areas need to be implemented with a species in mind. Small reserves have the capability to protect significant biodiversity in some species, such as in South African fynbos. Predators such as the African wild dog and brown bear, on the other hand, may require large areas to retain a decent proportion of their original species richness. vLPAs can encompass a species' entire range and as such as perceived as being 'better', however a tight network of highly connective reserves can achieve essentially the same thing. The (and I practised this a lot so I could actually say it correctly) Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (Northwestern Hawaiian islands) is a prime example of this. For mobile species such as the giant trevally, the general consensus is that it is difficult to protect such populations due to their fluid spatial movements. By protecting important aggregation sites such as feeding or spawning sites, these populations can be protected without having to cordon off large areas.

What about cost?
In economic terms, a protected area may be seen as an investment - as such the expected benefits need to outweigh the potential costs before its implementation. A major cost involved is the displacement of fishermen from previously fished areas (should that area be closed to fishing activity). Asides from this aspect, protected areas are not cheap. Running costs of between $5 billion and $19 billion were estimated by Balmford et al. (2004) should we create enough PAs to meet biodiversity targets. Smaller reserves can be managed by small, local populations (community effort right?) whilst very large reserves suffer from the extreme demand for resources and personnel required to manage the large boundaries.

A brief summary of the advantages and disadvantages of vLPAs (in both terrestrial and marine sites) can be found below:

Support more species
Difficulties in enforcing protection over a large area.
Large protective core not affected by ‘edge-effects’
Conflict over land use and economical expenses.
Accommodate range shifts due to climate change
May not be as beneficial to fisheries as first thought.
Accommodate highly mobile/migratory species.

A few key references that I have cited here...
Balmford, A., Gravestock, P., Hockley, N., McClean, C. J., & Roberts, C. M. (2004). The worldwide costs of marine protected areas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(26), 9694-9697

Roberts, C. M., Bohnsack, J. A., Gell, F., Hawkins, J. P., & Goodridge, R. (2001). Effects of marine reserves on adjacent fisheries. Science, 294(5548), 1920-1923.

I haven't referenced this one but it is really useful (for my revision and for those who are generally interested in marine reserves)

Roberts, C.M. & Hawkins, J.P. (2000) Fully protected marine reserves: A guide. World Wildlife Fund, Washington DC (link here:

Thursday, 10 May 2012

6th World Fisheries Congress, Edinburgh.

In typical Rachel-form I have this post and a few others in draft form that are in dire need of completing and publishing. Also in typical Rachel-form, I got far too exciting about the 6th World Fisheries Congress that I have just volunteered at and subsequently my post about the coral reef monitoring programme shall have to wait.

So, it all started when I received an e-mail from my supervisor at the University of York with a great opportunity. Reading the e-mail I became pretty damn fixated on the idea of me travelling up to Edinburgh for a few days and volunteering, both gaining some valuable experience and doing a fair bit of networking on the side. I immediately sent an e-mail to Angela from Congrex saying I was interesting, and felt a little disheartened when I didn't hear anything back. I assumed that the places were filled and they wouldn't require my services. Shame really, I would have loved to have done it.

A week or so later I received an e-mail saying that I had been chosen to be part of the volunteering team. Getting a little excited about the prospect of helping out at such a prestigious event (and obtaining a rather fetching blue t-shirt) I booked my train tickets, booked my accommodation for two nights and waited ever so patiently for the day to arrive. Now, for me to say I wasn't nervous about travelling up to Edinburgh on my own, meeting new people and rooting around for some confidence would be a complete lie. I was terrified! I do tend to have a pretty nervous disposition and as such rarely put myself out there and grasp life's opportunities by the horns. Why? Because I just stick my head in the sand. I knew that this opportunity was something I needed to go for. The 6th World Fisheries Congress is the olympic-event of the fisheries sector. It comes around once every 4 years and this was the first time it had entered UK waters.

So, Monday arrived and I was sat on the train. I'd forgotten my coffee which was a bit of a pain (hey, that rhymes). The journey itself was only 2 and a half hours long and I arrived in good time. I could have left at Waverely and walked to the hostel (20-30 minutes walk), but I decided to stay on and get off at Haymarket instead (1 minute walk to the hostel). Fabulous. Silly me didn't check the check-in time at the hostel so when I arrived at 11am-ish they couldn't check me in and I was left feeling a daft. I was able to leave my case in their laundry room which made things better and I proceeded to have a mooch around Haymarket before meeting the rest of the volunteer team at 1pm at the EICC.

The Edinburgh International Conference Centre, EICC. 
I had a twaddle inside and immediately felt nervous again. I signed in to the building, let them know I was a volunteer, picked up a t-shirt or two, grabbed my name tag that I had to wear at all times and went to get changed before joining the other volunteers for a briefing. I couldn't resist when it came to taking a cheeky photo of me in my gear. Excuse the toilet behind, it was the only mirror that I could get access to.

A little bit 'scene' but I couldn't care less - me and my fetching t-shirt and name tag (the wrong way round as it spent most of the time...)
T-shirt logo and the lovely shark keyring/bottle opener in the goody bags.

After the briefing we were given our training on the Congrex computers. My job was on the pre-registration desks alongside a few others. We were the first people that the delegates would meet upon entering the EICC and so it was important that we provided service with a smile (as per). The system was very easy to use, we had to lookup delegates based on confirmation number (that very few actually had) or surname (thankfully everyone has a surname so there was no problem here... Most of the time).

My lovely desk with a touch-screen monitor and a rather annoying keyboard.

Pre-registration on the Monday officially opened at 3pm, so shortly after the delegates came drifting in through the doors and guided to our desks. Easy peasy. They were checked-in on the system, name badges were printed, Duchy bags were handed out (with various goodies inside) and they were sent on their way, either to the New Registrations/Accounts desk (if there was an account query) or to the Tours and Social desk if they had a ticket to be exchanged.

Duchy Originals - Itchy, kind of smelly and moulted - A nice touch either way.

Drinks were being served at 7pm for the Welcome Reception downstairs in the Exhibition room and, as expected, 6.45pm proved the busiest time for the registration desks. Delegates were flooding in and it was an absolute mission trying to get through everyone. Thankfully we finished at 7.15pm and some of us made our way downstairs to meet and greet the delegates and have a really good mooch around the Exhibitions.

It was actually a really good opportunity to get some vital networking done. I walked around with one of the other volunteers who is significantly more confident then I am and basically followed like a little lost sheep most of the time. We spoke to Natural England for a long time which was nice (since I am working with them in July) and it has given me an idea to enquire about some graduate positions/ work experience within the North-West. After more networking, a glass of wine and a bottle of beer I was ready for bed (honestly, you try doing a long day on your feet talking to a lot of people and eating very little). By 9pm we were allowed to leave and I made my way back to the hostel for a good night's kip (... I wished).

I was up again at 5.45am (joy of joys) and after a pretty horrific night's sleep (being woken up by a lady on the lower bunk either a) snoring or b) sleep-talking rather loudly) I really did not want to drag myself out of bed but, alas, needs must. Also, today was a pretty big day since we needed to prepare for our 'special guest'.

Welcome to the 6th World Fisheries Congress
 The Opening Ceremony began at about 10am and was pretty impressive, I have to admit. We all piled into the biggest room in the EICC. I managed to wade my way through masses of people alongside two other volunteers so we could park ourselves on the second row from the front on the left hand side. Perfect spot. I thoroughly enjoyed Ray Hilborn's talk, mainly because he talked about the environmental effects of fisheries from a whole different stance. He basically suggested that the environmental costs of NOT fishing would cause a lot of stress for terrestrial habitats and cause a greater degree of biodiversity loss than if fishing took place. It was interesting since I hadn't really thought of it like that. The dilemma that we are in at the moment is that of food security. We have the challenge of sourcing food to feed nearly 7 billion people. If we take away one of the world's greatest suppliers of protein - fish - out of the equation then we need to find alternative sources, simple as. Based on a few of the statistics readily found on the web he made an interesting point regarding this, that in order to replace the world fish production by grazing at world average grazing productivity we would need 139km-squared of grazing lands.

Putting this into perspective, Hilborn provided an example of what this could do. The Peruvian anchoveta fishery has been extensively fished for years, yet to replace this fishery and supply the same amount of protein from land-based agriculture it would result in a vast amount of deforestation in order to allow for the extensive numbers of farmland that would follow. This, sadly, means that over 4500 orang-utans a year would suffer. Now, I'm not one for ignoring the 'little species' and focussing on the larger-than-life charismatic animals but he has got a point. Stopping the fishing industry completely would be incredibly detrimental to the longevity of terrestrial ecosystems and cause a serious decline in biodiversity.

Delivering his speech. Image by MarineLink (
Those present in the opening ceremony were also privy to a talk by none other than HRH Prince of Wales. Prince Charles gave a rather passionate speech (I thought so anyway). His keynote speech can be found here.

In between the mingling, actually doing the job at hand and serving the needs of anyone who required assistance, I managed to see a few of the talks. One of which was about the CFP Reform, the panel being Richard Benyon, Lowri Evans, Richard Lochhead, Tony Long and Julio Morón. The session I saw was set out much like the BBCs Question Time where a panel answered a series of questions asked by the audience. I only popped in for the last half an hour but it was interesting to say the least. I managed to hear about their views on discards and the discard-ban, and also about subsidies. Now I was trying to tweet furiously (as were several other of the delegates as I realised). Whilst most of what I was saying probably sounded like complete and utter rubbish (I just don't know enough about it).
"Stopping discards are good but need to maintain biomass in oceans and thus focus on what is being landed rather than protein landed"
I met some wonderful people during my two days there. I was honestly gutted that I didn't feel well enough for my final (3rd) day but I learnt a lot and feel like I have come away from a fantastic experience. I just hope the 7th World Fisheries Congress is within the EU and that I can hopefully volunteer in the next four years... We shall see.